BU academic uncovers Stonehenge truths in BBC documentary

Dr. Miles Russell, an academic from Bournemouth University (BU), has given comment on Stonehenge during a BBC documentary, Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath.

In the programme, archaeologists take a high tech approach to discovering the history of Stonehenge and have started to explore the surrounding areas using 21st century technology to study over ten thousand years of human development.

Dr. Russell’s research has discovered that flint found underground in Grime Graves were also found in the form of prehistoric tools when the digging up of the surrounding areas of the Stonehenge.

The mining of the flint was an incredibly complex and dangerous process with the mines reaching sizes of 12 and a half metres deep. Russell said during the documentary: “These mines are quite an achievement when you think the people excavating these mines were only using stone and bone tools.”

Russell, who is also director of Regnum and co-director of the Durotriges Project, has given evidence that shows these prehistoric communities who built the mines were capable of large scale and complicated projects, furthering the discoveries of how the Stonehenge was created.

The programme is available to watch again on BBC iPlayer.

By Charlotte Cranny-Evans

Charlotte is a graduate of Budmouth College in Weymouth, who is working at Bournemouth University in the Press and PR Department. She joined BU on a Sir Samuel Mico Scholarship, which provides 10 students from the college with work experience for four weeks over the summer.

Swash Channel Wreck surfaces in new exhibition

The Swash Channel Wreck exhibition launched at Poole Museum on 25 July and displays the results of work carried out by Bournemouth University (BU) staff and students, who raised and conserved the wreck.

The Seventeenth Century shipwreck was discovered outside Poole harbour in 2004 and is hailed as the most significant wreck found in UK waters since the Mary Rose in 1971. Smaller finds, recovered and preserved by students, are now on display in the museum along with replicas and related objects.

The exhibition, which is financially supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, tells the story of the discovery of the ship by archaeologists and the story of the ship itself, from its building to its untimely sinking. It is part of an on-going project led by BU’s maritime archaeologists – a team known as M.A.D. About the Wreck, whose aim is to widen public appreciation of underwater archaeology.

BU’s involvement in the Swash Channel Wreck project began in 2006 when maritime archaeology students were invited to monitor the site of the wreck as part of their training. Excavation of the ship began in 2010, led by BU and funded by English Heritage, and work is likely to continue for years to come as more treasures are rescued from the seabed. Surveying, excavating and conserving the wreck was aided with sponsorship from Jenkins Marine and collaborating with Poole Maritime Heritage, Borough of Poole and Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust.

The ship is thought to belong to the Dutch East India Trading company and comes from the Dutch Golden Age of shipbuilding. The vessel would have been ornately carved, carried several cannons for protection and was destined for trade in the Tropics and the Americas. The preservation and lack of weathering on the carvings suggest it was possibly on its maiden voyage to the tropics when it was sunk by a storm near Poole. It is currently the only known example of this type of ship and signifies the transition from maritime exploration to global trading.

Gordon Le Pard, Project Officer for M.A.D. About the Wreck was involved in the public interpretation of the Swash Channel Wreck. Commenting on the historical significance of the wreck, he said, “[The ship] is the very beginning of the modern idea of international trade.”

Alongside Gordon and BU’s Programme Leader for MSc Maritime Archaeology Paola Palma, exhibition curator Katie Morton helped to bring the ship’s story to life and said,

“I think there are so many stories around the ship wreck and even though it’s a very local wreck, discovered just outside Poole harbour, it’s an incredibly international story. This ship, and you have to picture it all decorated with carvings and painted, would have been absolutely incredible.”

“It’s fabulous that it’s on our doorstep. Poole is full of amazing maritime heritage which we are lucky to have at Poole Museum but this is really special.”

Big Dig discovery makes international news headlines

A discovery by BU archaeology students and lecturers at the Big Dig site, which could rewrite Roman history, received international media coverage.

Five skeletons were found at the site, in Winterborne Kingston, thought to belong to a Roman family – the first time that evidence of a villa and the villa’s occupants have been found in the same location in Britain.

The story has been featured by national newspapers including The Telegraph, The Times and the Mail Online as well as local coverage in the Bournemouth Echo, Blackmore Vale Magazine and the BBC Dorset website.

The story also gained international media appearances – including coverage in Australia and India – as well as a number of industry specific websites. Over 50 BBC radio stations included the news in their hourly bulletins – giving the story wide national exposure.

The widespread media coverage led to a record-breaking Big Dig Open Day – with more than 1,500 members of the public visiting to explore the site and the discoveries.

Speaking to ITV Meridian at the Big Dig site, Paul Cheetham, Senior Lecturer in Archaeological Sciences and co-director of the project, suggested that this is just the start of many more findings to come.

“It’s a fabulous archaeological site, with material going to almost 4,500 years ago through to the end of the Roman period and possibly beyond to the early Dark Ages.

“We could probably dig here for the rest of our lives and still not discover all of the secrets in this part of Dorset.”

The story caught the attention of the British Council, who interviewed international students working on the dig to promote archaeology at BU to an international audience.

One student, Jessica Fangmann, said, “Everyone’s good friends on the dig and I feel like I’m learning the things I’m interested in. I’m so glad I came to the UK and I think this is a really good experience.”

Five skeletons found at Big Dig could change view of Roman history


A new archaeological find uncovered at the Durotriges site in Dorset could help to shed light on the rural elite of late-Roman Britain.

The skeletal remains are thought to be unique as they are buried near a Roman villa, making it likely that the skeletons belonged to the owners and occupants of the villa – the first time in Britain that the graves of villa owners have been found in such close proximity to the villa itself.

Five skeletons were found; two adult males, two adult females and an elderly female – with researchers postulating that they could be the remains of three generations of the same family, who all owned the villa.  The bones are thought to date from the mid-4th Century (around 350 AD).

Dr Miles Russell with the skeletons

Dr Miles Russell with the skeletons

Miles Russell, a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Bournemouth University and one of the archaeologists leading the dig, said, “The discovery is of great significance as it is the only time where evidence of a villa and the villa’s occupants have been found in the same location in Britain. This could provide us with significant information, never retrieved before, about the state of health of the villa owners, their ancestry and where they came from.”

Miles continued, “One of the big questions in South West is whether the villas in the South West were owned by Britons who have become Roman or owned by people from another part of the Empire who have come to exploit an under-developed rural area. All villas in this region in the South West are late-Roman – and our findings should tell us more about what life was like in this period of history. This is what what can be assessed when the bones are analysed.”

Remains found at the dig site

Remains found at the dig site

The discovery was made by staff and students from Bournemouth University, who are working on the Durotriges Big Dig project in North Dorset.

The villa itself was excavated last year by students working on the project, and the latest find is the final step in excavating this particular area of rich archaeological significance.

Paul Cheetham, Senior Lecturer in Archaeological Sciences and co-director of the project, added, “We are looking at the rural elite of late-Roman Britain, living through the economic collapse that took place during this period. These remains will shed light on the final stages of the golden age of Roman Britain.”

Find out more about Bournemouth University’s Big Dig Project 2014

BU research in action at Stonehenge Visitor Centre


A series of reconstructed Neolithic houses have opened at the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre, with Bournemouth University research used as the basis for the reconstruction.

Original remains of Neolithic houses were uncovered at the Stonehenge site during the Stonehenge Riverside Project, which involved Bournemouth University staff and students.  The houses, at Durrington Walls, date to the time in which Stonehenge was constructed and are likely to represent the houses of those who were involved with building the monument.

Dr Kate Welham, one of the Co-Directors of the Stonehenge Riverside, said, “I feel immensely proud that the hard work by our archaeology students has ultimately contributed to this fantastic visitor experience at Stonehenge.  To see the result of our research presented in such an imaginative way is extremely exciting, and for it to be such as major part of the visitor experience is a real reflection of just what an important part of the Stonehenge story this work is.”

There are over a million visitors to Stonehenge each year, and the new Visitor Centre, including the work of academics and students from BU, was created to give more information and context about the history of Stonehenge. The new houses take centre stage at the Centre as they are based just outside.

Dr Kate Welham continued, “The houses are really important and such a key feature of the World Heritage Site that English Heritage decided to make them a major part of the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre.  They have reconstructed them and there are five houses which visitors can go into and explore what it might have been like to be living in the Neolithic time. They have been carefully reconstructed using traditional techniques and the original plans and finds from our excavations.

“It is also extremely unusual to find houses from this period and therefore they are extremely important archaeologically, beyond even their relationship with Stonehenge.”

To engage with the Stonehenge Landscape and learn more about the houses and the Stonehenge Riverside Project, download the Google Earth layer – Seeing Beneath Stonehenge.

Dr Miles Russell on BBC 2 Archaeology programme

Dr Miles Russell, Archaeology Lecturer at Bournemouth University recently appeared on the BBC 2 programme ‘Border Country: The Story of Britain’s Lost Middleland’.

Russell discussed how Britain looked before the Romans arrived. “Before the Romans arrived, do you think there would have been a clear dramatic difference between what we now call Scotland and what we now call England? No. There’s now real difference” said Russell.

He went on to say “boundaries are a much more modern concept, the idea of fixed impenetrable borders between one civilisation and another”.

“I think a Roman coming here would see this as primitive because they’re used to lights. They’re used to painted walls and nice solid floors and they would see the mud floor, thatched roofs, the daubed walls and really the tribal nature of society itself as being very backwards”.

You can view the programme again on iPlayer.

Prof. Tim Darvill and the sounds of Stonehenge’s ‘ringing rocks’

BU Professor of Archaeology Tim Darvill OBE was interviewed as part of BBC South programme Inside Out about whether the stones used for Stonehenge were picked because of their sound quality.

The feature looked at a recently developed theory which suggests that the Bluestones, which were transported from Wales to make up Stonehenge, were chosen for their resonant sound qualities – which means certain parts of the rocks make a ringing sound when struck.

Professor Darvill, who is one of the world’s leading experts on Stonehenge, was interviewed by presenter Jon Cuthill about the theory.

He said: “We don’t, of course, know that they moved them because they rang. What we can say though is that prehistoric attitudes to stone must have been very different to the attitudes we have today.

“We often think of stone as something very permanent, very long-term, very inert, but we talk about – in a strange way – the living rock. We talk about stone as if it’s got a life to it, it’s got a presence to the landscape that is a little bit more than just a rock.”

Jon joined Professor Darvill, and other researchers, after they were granted permission by English Heritage to test the rocks at Stonehenge to see if they had the same resonant qualities as the ones found in Wales.

“Ringing rocks are a prominent part of many cultures,” added Professor Darvill.  “You can almost see them as a prehistoric glockenspiel, if you like, and you could knock them and hear these tunes.

“The soundscapes of prehistory are something that we are really just starting to explore.”

The research and Professor Darvill’s thoughts were also featured in articles in The Independent and regional press in New Zealand and Belfast. The story was then featured in a number of publications throughout Europe, including Bulgaria, Romania and Norway.

Watch the Inside Out programme in full (available for seven days)

Archaeology professor Mark Brisbane featured on BBC Radio 4

Mark Brisbane, Visiting Professor of Archaeology at Bournemouth University was featured on the I-PM show on BBC Radio 4.

The discussion formed around Prince William’s recent claims that all royal ivory should be destroyed and that other Heads of State should be encouraged to give up their Ivory collections to decrease interest in the trade. “What message does this send about the tens of thousands of items made of ivory in the world’s museums?  It shows a lack of understanding about ivory itself,” said Brisbane.

“There are loads of different types of ivory coming from different sources such as walrus ivory, hippo teeth and whale teeth”.

Confusion occurs because “mammoth ivory is a legal trade,” whereas other types of ivory such as elephant tusks are illegal. “People often use ivory to turn into religious objects. Digging for mammoth ivory should be illegal as people are trying to make money out it but destroying the sites where other remains will be” said Brisbane.

“I started digging in Winchester in 1971 and been digging ever since” said Brisbane. When asked what drives his love of digging he answered with “the thrill of discovery”.

Lecturer awarded £7,000 grant to further marine research

Paola Palma, lecturer in Marine Archaeology at Bournemouth University has recently been awarded an English Heritage grant worth £7,000 to study shipworms around the UK.

The study will last six months and should map the presence of two types of shipworms, Teredo Navalis and Lyrodus Pedicellatus, in English waters.

Shipworms are most commonly known for causing the rapid degradation of wooden objects as they often tunnel through wood internally causing it to weaken.

Paola Palma said “Teredo Navalis is probably the shipworm best-known to archaeologists”. The study hopes to build on existing knowledge using publicly available knowledge.

BU students will also get involved with the study as part of a training exercise, details to be confirmed at a later date.

Miles Russell discusses Piltdown Man hoax on BBC Radio Solent

Miles Russell, programme leader of the BSc Archaeology course at Bournemouth University appeared on Steve Harris’ Drivetime show on BBC Radio Solent, discussing the 60 year anniversary since the discovery of the Piltdown Man was uncovered as a hoax.

Russell suggested archaeologists have learned from the hoax saying, “We have all become more cynical. If a find is too good to be true, it often is”.

Piltdown Man was said to be the biggest archaeological discovery of the century in 1912 when fossils of a human braincase and an ape like jaw were discovered, marking the midpoint in evolution between apes and humans.

In the 1950’s further research was carried out on Piltdown and, 60 years ago, the discovery was exposed as a hoax.

“People were so worried about proving Piltdown as a hoax that they wanted to make sure every last test was complete,” said Russell. “Before the hoax was uncovered, children had always been taught that civilization began in the south east”. However the science behind Piltdown didn’t align with other scientists discoveries over the years.